Despite the fact the NHL and the Kontinental League reached an agreement last week not to poach each other’s players under contract, the KHL has ruled it will uphold the three-year, $13 million contract Alexander Radulov of the Nashville Predators signed with Ufa Salavat.
That means as far as the KHL is concerned, Radulov will play in Russia next season. And that, sources say, will set up a showdown with the NHL that could throw the entire process into chaos and thwart the original agreement, which effectively would make it open season on players playing in both leagues.
A top executive in the KHL told THN.com that since the peace pact was agreed to July 10 and the Radulov signing with Ufa was agreed to July 5, Radulov’s signing does not come under the purview of the agreement. Radulov signed the deal despite the fact he has a year remaining on his entry-level deal with the Predators.
“The NHL is trying to put things in a retrospective way saying that the (Radulov) transfer, which was on the fifth of July, constitutes the moment when we should respect each other’s rights,” said Ilya Kochevrin, a vice-president and the director of marketing for the KHL. “But this issue was dealt with in Zurich on the 10th. If you want to look at things retrospectively, we should prorate all the way to the time when (Alex) Ovechkin and (Evgeni) Malkin were taken out of the Russian clubs.”
The KHL said in a news release it met Wednesday and intends to honor the agreement retroactive to July 10, but expects to have a document that can be signed by Aug. 1. That means no players now or in the future who are under contract to NHL clubs will be poached by the KHL, but it will allow Radulov to play in Ufa next season.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the KHL is bound by the agreement and intends to enforce the Radulov contract with the Predators.
“While we are pleased with the announcement that the KHL has voted to approve the accord we all talked about and agreed to last week, that does not lessen the obligation they continue to have – both legally and morally based on traditional principles of contract law and on representations made to us on at least two prior occasions – to respect valid and binding contractual obligations in our league,” Daly said in an email. “We expect that Mr. Radulov will not be given the option to play in the KHL this year and that he will be returned to the team that has rightfully and legally contracted for his services – the Nashville Predators.”
Several NHL sources confirmed the league has known for some time that the KHL would ratify the Radulov contract and the announcement Wednesday was meant to lead the world to believe it is acting honorably. They also said if the KHL doesn’t respect the Radulov contract with Nashville there will not be an agreement of any kind. Sources also said the league still sees this issue as far from being over.
The NHL is also expecting the IIHF to step in and force the KHL to nullify Radulov’s contract. IIHF president Rene Fasel could not be reached for comment, but the IIHF has already stated that if a player signs in Russia while under contract to an NHL team, he will be “red flagged,” meaning he will not be eligible to play for his country in international competitions and his team will be barred from playing in the IIHF-run Champions League, which can be a financial windfall for teams that qualify.
Kochevrin said he is expecting to have a conference call with Daly and IIHF president Rene Fasel Thursday to further discuss the agreement, but said the KHL’s stance on the Radulov contract will remain firm.
“So far we don’t have any written agreement,” Kochevrin said. “Everything verbal is fine, but you have to understand that verbal agreements can be twisted either way.”
Clouding the issue is the situation with Nikita Filatov, who was drafted sixth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Filatov’s camp has maintained he has no contractual ties to his former Central Army team and is free to play in North America. Red Army disagrees and is demanding compensation from the Blue Jackets.
Some say the KHL is holding firm on Radulov as a retaliatory strike over the Filatov situation.
“What we’re saying is that we’re putting a moratorium on signing (players under contract) as a gesture of goodwill to demonstrate we’re willing to find a solution between the KHL and the NHL,” Kochevrin said. “There was a one-way street when Russian players were moving to North America and clubs feel frustrated because so much has been invested in those players and nothing was given in exchange. The NHL has not been respecting our contracts for years, or even decades, and we need to have some control with respect to contracts.”